“No, it’s cool, it’s not like our Ancestors Killed Them All or anything.”

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 24, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Bonus update:

“Jeremy Lin turns ex-NBA player Kenyon Martins claims of cultural appropriation back on him in the most respectful, kindest way possible.”

Is “playing Indian” wrong?

Is there a difference between wearing Blackface and dressing up like an “Indian”? If so, what?

I say this not in an accusatory manner—I’ve been a Boy Scout with Indian headdress for Halloween, before, and if I thought about it at all I likely thought I was doing some small token honor to our Native American friends, who are, to every boy, so cool.


Five thoughtful reads with a mindful perspective:

> Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation.

> In Defense of Cultural Appropriation.

Artists’ Cultural Borrowing.

> What Distinguishes Cultural Exchange from Cultural Appropriation?

> Is Cultural Appropriation Always Wrong?


For more images and commentary worth the read, click over to the thought-provoking blog from which these were sourced.

Photo at top: Jen Mussari


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


28 Responses to ““No, it’s cool, it’s not like our Ancestors Killed Them All or anything.””

  1. Kimberley says:

    I think we need to have a bit more respect. So much was taken from them, now we are going to take their culture, religion and use it as we please? Like I said, a bit more respect is due.

  2. Jolene says:

    Imitation is a superficial form of emulation. Thinking you can experience nirvana if you just close your eyes and cross your legs for a couple of minutes is obviously childish. If we want to honor a tradition or culture which we hold in high regard, I would think we would take the time to learn about and understand it before we go sticking a feather in our sweat bands or putting on a paper grass skirt to do that hula-hula thing, seriously thinking that we're honoring anybody in such a flippant way.

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Wow…taking this way too serious.. Its one thing dressing like an Indian yet so many actually call themselves Yogi and believe the charade

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Uh oh did i really say that?

  5. April says:

    As a native american… I hate when we're referred to like we're extinct. Just Saying.

    oh and I really like this shirt: http://www.tshirthell.com/funny-shirts/learn-to-s

  6. Adam says:

    "Hey everyone, I'm going to dress up as someone from another culture as a big joke, because ya know, other cultures are funny".

    Nope, not offensive at all!

  7. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. April, write something for us?

  8. elephantjournal says:

    I don't want to defend this, but when we in Boulder name half of our streets after the Native Americans who once lived here, that's not offensive. What was done a century ago is offensive. But there is a real appreciation and longing to honor and remember a people and their way of life that was wiped out, in much of the US.

  9. ARCreated says:

    although I agree on many levels…I also feel that when it comes to dress up (especially halloween) we need to have a sense of humor…I mean people also dress like harried housewives, ugly witches, and suicidal executives…sometimes its a commentary and sometimes its just trying to be clever. I'm Irish and I think we get relegated to the drunk and fighting corner wearing green (ok some truth but HEY more to us than that) but when I see someone drunk ass stupid in a bad kilt on st. paddy's day I don't think "hey respect my people" … I think "wow what an ass" and let it go.

  10. ARCreated says:

    If I were to ever dress up like a Native American I would probably do a historical character and I would find that no more offensive than dressing up like abraham lincoln….or as a druid…or as a swami…or a gypsy…or a rappery…Or any other "dressing up" as something I am not. that is the point of costume…to be something you aren't…
    ON the other hand if I see someone dressed like a Native and acting OUT and brining racial/social slurs into it…then well…I think my fighting Irish might come out.
    Hmmmmm I guess it comes down to intention, respect and maybe just maybe some of it is about not being too sensitive… Living in AZ I am sometimes angrily sensitive to the plight of the Hispanic and Native American cultures — living in a cess pool of racism and bigotry makes me a bit touchy and I get a little annoyed with my people —- however I can't see "evil" in every act of tom foolery….any more than I see evil when someone calls me a cosmic "whoo hoo" — sometimes it makes me laugh too.

  11. ARCreated says:

    what I realized as I wrote is that I'm a fence sitter…interesting.

  12. April says:

    What? About THIS topic?

  13. Adam says:

    Yeah, i get that.

    I was referring to the question about headresses vs. black face.

  14. Ben Ralston says:

    I recently read a beautiful little book ALL about this: ‘Neither Wolf nor Dog’, by Kent Nerburn. It’s absolutely honest and very revealing – the truth about what the white man did to the Native Americans, and how they continue to disrespect and at the same time try to emulate their culture.

    Very interesting, I recommend it.


  15. alex says:

    i'm native american, and this sort of intrigued me. i'm not saying we should all be overly sensitive about this, but some of it is ridiculous. people think its hilarious to wear feathers and face paint and say stuff like "me likem smoke". however, if i dressed up in baggy clothing, painted my face black, and used very poor grammar, im sure people wouldnt be so amused. im not saying its cool to get butthurt about this, all im saying is that its a B.S. double-standard and people need to wake up.

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Whatever you like!

  17. elephantjournal says:

    New from Gawker: is your outfit racist? http://gawker.com/5672914/is-your-halloween-costu

  18. elephantjournal says:

    Well said. It is offensive, we don't think of it as offensive, and yet we still don't need to take ourselves to seriously…even as we wake up from our own ignorance.

  19. ARCreated says:

    those seemed more sexist than racist…just me?

  20. […] So put away your headdress, friend: swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/qATdn8xaLtw&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-188129-youtube-1", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/pj97FzYWhe8&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-188129-youtube-2", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/5O9umGN73Y0&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-188129-youtube-3", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/T7UwPm6sGOc&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-188129-youtube-4", "425", "344", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and won #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of elephantjournal.com. […]

  21. dub_xion says:

    I think the MGMT video should be taken in context – ie. they're tripping balls and riding kittens.

  22. Ryan says:

    Why do we always ignore the truth and reality of history in favor of a more convenient less offensive and more current topic? The fact is at the time when our ancestors were" killing them all", dressing up like them and adopting aspects of their culture was not an issue and in no way contributed to what was done to them. The white people were trying to wipe them and their culture off the face of the earth. They were seen as wrong and needed to be corrected. This was done in the name of greed, fear, and the white people's deeply held "beliefs" and religion. Today there are Christian schools for native Americans. Why is this not seen as offensive given all of the horrible things were done to the native Americans in the name of Christianity?
    Lets not let small indiscretions of well meaning and mostly harmless people distract us from the root causes of hate and fear and all the ugly things in life. Could it be that instead of everyone being so careful about offending everybody else, we all work with ourselves to not be so easily offended…whatever our history?

  23. joe bernard says:


    yo, credit the artist on that cartoon, nobody ever does, i've seen that shit in newspapers and published magazines without an art credit.

  24. I feel it is a case of always being mindful of our actions and doing what we can to bring a higher understanding to what we see do andfeel. We cant change the past. In the overall scheme of life alle can do is aspire to learn from it and heal the wounds so our children can inherit a healthier more sacred world.

  25. integralhack says:

    I think one could make the case that as long as you aren't trying to create a caricature of a specific Native American tribe (isn't there a great deal of variation in dress depending on tribe, historical context and geographical location?) that some derivative use should be acceptable.

    In the eighties, groups like Adam and the Ants (who used feathers, war paint in addition to pirate garb) were celebrated by some Native American tribes–but I think this is because they weren't trying to create a caricature but a fun cultural montage of rebelliousness.

  26. Rebecca says:

    Everybody shits on something. Doesn't mean that it is right or ok but sooner or later you just have to shrug it off and not be so self righteous.

  27. Roni says:

    Awesome T-shirt!

  28. AMacDonald says:

    Referring to indigenous folks as extinct (aka "we (white folks) killed them all") is both factually incorrect and a huge over simplification. There are many indigenous folks who are still alive, still struggling, still resisting. And also indigenous people are not an amorphous group. There are many nations, many cultures, many different traditions. In the same way that a dollar store head dress is a gross simplification and appropriation, this response fall in line with the same logic. Research folks who live in your geographical area. Learn the territory you are living, learning, exploiting on. Be accountable.